Well, I wasn’t planning on updating this blog a second time this week, but I have had a lot running through my head since the news of Osama bin Laden’s death broke late last night (as I’m sure you all have too), and since some friends back home have been curious about the reaction in New York, I felt I should share my experience of the past 24 hours.
I was sitting at the computer in my apartment, on my last rounds of checking facebook and twitter before bed, when I saw the words “Osama bin Laden Dead” all over my news feed. My reaction was disbelief until President Obama’s speech confirmed what my friends had been saying. (Now before you read my opinions that followed, I urge you to read this post entirely before judging me.)
My consciousness then responded with a callous indifference. Obviously I wasn’t upset over the death of someone so heinously evil, but I sarcastically wondered, “Great, what exactly does this change?” I saw no need to celebrate something that seemed like nothing more than political symbolism. Did this mean our troops could finally come home? Would innocent lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq finally be spared from our weapons? Were my Muslim friends finally going to be rid of the racist harassment that’s been so prevalent in our country since 9/11? I still think the answer to all of these questions is an unfortunate, “no.”
As I continued to obsessively read my friends’ musings on social networking sites, I became even more disgusted. Some were on the same page as me, but some were spewing arrogantly nationalistic nonsense like “USA #1!”
“How tacky,” I thought. “Isn’t that like giving a huge middle finger to everyone who has lost a loved one to American branded explosives in the Middle East and South Asia because of the so-called War on Terror?”
Just before I planned to go to sleep (which would actually turn out to be an hour later), a friend texted to ask if I was taking part in the festivities at Ground Zero. I had work in the morning, but even if I hadn’t needed to be up early, I felt like this was a moment in history I was more comfortable observing than actively participating in. I was glad to be on my quiet block, where the only signs of this news were the sounds of loud televisions in the hallways.
I told her that was the case before scolding her for being one of the those people virtually shouting “USA #1!” It turned into a long debate that eventually ended with her agreeing it was indeed a tacky thing to say, but that she meant it not to say that our country was #1 in comparison with the rest of the world, but in comparison with itself. To her, this was the beginning of a healing process, and she hoped it at least meant a decline in Islamophobia. I agreed with her, though I was still irritated at the way she chose to express her thoughts.
As I’m sure was the case most places, this news was the hot topic of conversation at work today. None of my coworkers, most of who actually were in this city on 9/11, were thrilled. For the most part the comments were, “How crazy is that?” One person said it was just a painful reminder of the 3,000 people lost that day. When I told one waiter how unimpressed I was, he said he could see my point, but noted, “at least it’s closure for a lot of people who lost someone” when the towers fell.
After he walked back to take care of his tables, I started feeling guilty about how unaffected I was by all of it. I’ve never lost anyone close at the hands of other people, but I have lost people I love, and that pain never really goes away. My family and friends who have passed were all taken because of disease, but that never made me any less angry or hesitant to look for someone to blame.
When I look back at how I handled those losses, I regret my reactions, but at the same time, I know I was just trying to make sense of it all. I wish to this day I hadn’t retaliated against my friends and family, especially in regards to one particular death, but it’s hard to be rational when you’re grieving. I still can’t condone those who were popping champagne bottles at Ground Zero last night, especially since it’s impossible to verify if they had known victims of the World Trade Center attacks. But now I feel like I might have been a little too quick to condemn the celebrations.
When I think of 9/11, I distinctly remember the fear of not knowing whether or not my friends and family in New York were ok. I was lucky, in that everyone turned out to be fine, but maybe I would feel differently today if someone I knew had been among the casualties that day.
I still think it’s atrocious that so many other people have to live with that fear of not knowing whether their loved ones are alive on a daily basis because Americans had to deal with it for one day. And I still think there’s no excuse for the fact that so many people have used 9/11 as a reason for bigotry towards those of Islamic descent or faith. But like I said, maybe it was insensitive to judge everyone who was happy over last night’s news. I have my doubts about whether this will actually happen, but I hope my friend and coworker were right about this being a healing event.
I’m off to a hip-hop show in Union Square in a couple of hours, so hopefully my next post will be a bit more uplifting. Until then, good vibes everyone!